Thursday 8 November 2018

A Tough Cookie of a Rose

I have a lovely rose bush that my lovely sister gave me several years ago but the bush, like so many of us, has had a tough year:

February - I was laid low with the dreaded flu while the Beast from the East raged outside. My rose bush was blackened by frost.

March - The snow thawed. My MA work became more intense while my rose bush fought a different battle. An aggressive neighbour, a Virburnum Davidii with no respect for the space of others, was overwhelming her. The shrub had to go.

April - Secateurs were employed along with spades, forks, some digging, some pulling and several unladylike words (Ok, so Mr A did most of the heavy work... ok, ok, he did all of the heavy work!). The bully shrub was gone leaving my rose bush hanging pale and emaciated. (I didn't tell Sister about this so, 'Sorry, Sis x'.) 

Steaming summer - My rose was charred by the relentless sun. She longed for a good downpour of rain, as did we all.

Autumn - The garden is turning to shades of gold and brown while my rose has finally produced her 2018 blooms. Here she is early this morning after a cold, wet and windy night... and you can still see the gap where the offending shrub once stood.

My rose bush is truly a tough cookie, but then I guess we all have to be these days to survive.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Brain Mush...

...and how my mind reconstructed false news into a reality

Life after Masters has an unpleasant echo to it. Every morning, when I wake up, the realisation seeps into my consciousness that, although there are things to be done, it doesn't really matter if I do them or not. If I'm not careful my brain will start turning to mush.

I have had a taster of brain mush this week and I don't like it. My Facebook friends will know that I'm recovering from a nasty attack of vertigo. The GP gave me pills which are actually very good at alleviating the symptoms but have had a drastic affect on my brain. For a start, my words won't come out of my mouth correctly. Yesterday I called an accountant an academy and went to feed the kettles instead of the cats. The day before I said 'hello' twice to an old neighbour who was sitting at the next table to me in the local cafe. That lunchtime, I burnt the toast and couldn't work out what that awful screeching noise was. It was, of course, the smoke detector - yes, I know, at least I've tested that it's still working. Today I convinced myself that we had already turned back the clocks for the end of British Summer Time.

I need to talk about this most recent error because there was a double whammy to this mistake. I tried googling the date on my phone but the phone said the clocks had already gone back in September. I must have mistyped something but from that moment on I started to reconstruct reality. I talked myself into remembering the event, convincing myself that I had not made such a fuss about it this time and so that was why I had forgotten. I was on the verge of believing myself when I re-googled and sure enough, the clocks have not gone back yet, but they will do this Saturday night/Sunday morning. I was stunned at how quickly my mind had adopted false information and created a reality around it.

So this weekend I will try not to make my usual fuss about gaining an hour or losing an hour or whichever it might be. Meanwhile, I'm off to busy myself once more, to make sure I keep my brain well exercised and keep the mush at bay.

Friday 31 August 2018

My MA Experience

I have just had a most amazing two years. My only regret is that it's over.

It was 2016. I needed my mum's advice. For the millionth time, I wished she was still with me. I went to see Sonia, one of her old friends. I told her,
'I need advice from my mum.' (She understood.) 'I'm thinking of enrolling for an MA in Creative Writing at Leicester University. Is it the right thing to do? It's such a lot of money. I'll be the oldest in the group. What if the work piles up? What if it's too much for me? I've left it too late to go back to studying, haven't I?'
Sonia's response was swift, 'Do it', she said, 'And enjoy it.' And so I did it and I enjoyed it. I kept her updated on each assignment and I thanked her time and again for her advice. Sadly, she recently died, but I'll always be grateful for her encouragement.

So, what have I been up to over the last two years? With the support and guidance of an excellent group of tutors, I've developed my writing skills, experimented with words, discovered different ways of expressing myself on the page, spent hours in the library, drunk gallons of coffee and I've even had one or two drinks at the local pub. I now have a file full of material including a memoir, a play and an array of poetry - some of it ekphrastic, my words illustrating the paintings of a talented artist from a Polish shtetl, and one poem (as I've already mentioned several times) winner of the Leicester University G. S. Fraser poetry prize. I now have lots of material that I can rework for submission, lots of new ideas that I plan to develop, but I wish I could do it all over again.

If anyone reading this is thinking of enrolling for this type of a course, then my advice to you is the same as Sonia's was to me, 'Do it'. It's not cheap but then you get what you pay for - and now I'd best get back to the dissertation, my final piece of work to be submitted. It's written. I just need to give it a final check through, get it printed and bound and then I shall submit it and I might even have a small alcoholic drink to celebrate - just a small one, mind you!

Wednesday 27 June 2018

The Winner

I'm taking a break from working on my dissertation because I have received some exciting news from Leicester University. Sorry for sounding like a bit of a show-off but I can't wait to tell everybody.

My poem 'Fresh Canvas' has won 1st prize in the 2018 G. S. Fraser Poetry Competition

Once I'd stopped jumping up and down and checking that I'd read the email correctly, I looked on the Poetry Foundation website to find out a bit more about G. S. Fraser. He was born George Sutherland Fraser in 1914 in Glasgow. He served in the British Army in the Second World War and then went on to teach at Leicester University. He was particularly known for his lyrical poetry. I hope my poem, 'Fresh Canvas', serves his memory well.

During this two-year MA in Creative Writing Course I have become increasingly drawn to poetry writing but, just to make life even harder for myself, I decided not to write poetry for my dissertation but to write a stage play. It's based on events in London in 1935 so - yes - I'm also having to research the history. When I emerge from this mammoth exercise, I will be back here with my regular blogs but for now I'm going to return to my world of actors, lighting and stage directions.

Have a good summer and please don't think about me working away here for one single moment!

Sunday 1 April 2018

This is Facebook at its VERY best...

A visiting cat has been terrorising not only our two cats, but me as well. I have called it Killer Cat. I've tried shooing it off in the usual way, clapping my hands and barking loudly - maybe a tad unconventional but it normally works. Instead of running off, Killer Cat hissed and went on the attack. I retreated inside.

My next attempt to send Killer Cat running was with a long-handled cobweb brush. It made short shrift of this, viciously ripping the feathery end off it and then going for the handle. I retreated inside.

As a last resort - and this always works with normal cats - I wielded the bowl of cold water. KC shook the water off and came at me with teeth bared. I retreated inside.

I peered through the cat flap window to see if it had gone, only to see its grimacing face peering back at me. As the lock is broken on the cat flap, I pulled the kitchen bin across it. That seemed to deter it for the time being, but the next day it was back again.

This went on for several days. My cats were becoming ever more anxious. I ordered a cat flap with a chip-recognition facility but that didn't solve the problem of what do to with Killer Cat in the garden. Thanks to Daughter a solution, of sorts, was close...

Daughter suggested I take a photograph when it next visits and post it up on Facebook. Yesterday it reappeared, hissing and teeth-baring as usual. I took a photo and posted it on our local Community Facebook page. For a start I just got a few likes. Then this morning someone suggested that it might be Cedric, a cat who lives a few streets away from me. She posted up a Facebook comment from Cedric's owner, posted up last year when the cat had gone 'walk-abouts'. It included a contact phone number.

I have just finished chatting on the phone to Cedric's Mummy. Yes, it is Cedric but she was shocked because at home he's 'as soft as butter'. We talked about strategies and I assured her I would be in touch again if/when Cedric revisits.

I still can't believe that within 24 hours I have found out who the cat is and spoken to its owner. This is Facebook working at its impressive best. Isn't it a shame that something so potentially useful can also cause such harm.

Cedric aka Killer Cat

p.s. Don't want to speak too soon but I think I've just about fought off that evil flu virus. It's been a long winter!

Wednesday 14 March 2018

The non-desirous virus

Never mind the 'Beast from the East' (the name given to a recent cold snap in the UK). I have been, and still am, suffering from the 'non-desirous virus' or you could call it the 'flu that just grew' or to put it another way an evil attack of flu virus that has confined me to quarters for three weeks. This is week four and I'm still struggling with a cough and a great reduction in my usual energy levels. I haven't been for a swim for over four weeks and I really miss it!

So there is no new news to tell. I can talk about the comparative merits or otherwise of paracetamol as opposed to Lemsip. I can talk about the problems of wanting a hot water bottle to stop the shivers but at the same time breaking out into clammy fever-fuelled sweats... but I won't (whoops, I just did!)

Thank goodness for Messenger. My family have kept me company with chats and photos. Daughter has recently adopted ferrets. She now has three. I don't know much about ferrets but they seem to be good company and excellent entertainment. My Messenger page is full of ferret photos and videos of them tumbling over each other.

Beyond that, life has faded into pale. It's frightening how quickly I seem to have lost touch with events outside these four walls. I keep thinking of the last few years of Mum's life when she couldn't get out on her own and she kept saying that life outside was fading. I didn't understand. I hope I was suitably sympathetic.

So now I shall muster up some energy and start painting in the colours to bring my world back to life again...if only I can stay awake long enough.

Sunday 11 February 2018

A School Topic on Richard III

Yesterday I got a message via The Children's Book of Richard III's Facebook page from a teacher. She wanted to buy one of my books. I was delighted to hear from her. She's a local teacher and her class is doing a topic on Richard III. I have offered to visit her school. I told her that I don't charge for school visits. All I ask is for the school and/or its pupils to buy a few books from me to cover my costs.

So far, so good. Now here's the down side:

The teacher told me in her message that a well known online book-selling website says there are no books available, only second-hand ones. They are wrong. There are books available. This is not the first time this has happened. So I shall endeavour to circumnavigate that well known site and let you all know that we have books available at The Reading Shop. If you click on the link you can buy a book and it will be sent to you by the very same person who would have packed and posted it to you had you gone to that other site.

This blog post is also a reminder that I am still available to give talks in schools 
in return for a few book purchases. This is me in action:

Saturday 3 February 2018

Leicester Castle

On this day, 3rd February in 1399, John of Gaunt died in Leicester Castle.

Leicester Castle has a fascinating history but so has John of Gaunt. I could write pages about both but I shall limit myself to something a tad more snappy - five facts about John of Gaunt and five facts about Leicester Castle:

Five Facts about John of Gaunt

Part of a portrait from c.1593
probably modelled on his tomb effigy.
1.  Leicester Castle was his favourite residence and the place where he died.

2.  He was the son of Edward III, brother of the Black Prince, Uncle to Richard II and Father of Henry IV.

3.  Born in 1340, he was an attractive man and well known as a womaniser.

4.  He was not popular with the people and during the Peasants Revolt of 1381 they set fire to his London Savoy Palace residence.

5.  Just before his death his son, Henry Bolingbroke, was banished from the country and the trauma may have contributed to his death.

Five Facts about Leicester Castle

1.  It was first built as a motte and bailey castle in 1068.

2.  The Great Hall, built some time in the1100s, had an impressive timber-beamed structure and was used until recently as Leicester's Crown Court.

3.  England's Parliament met in the Great Hall in 1349, 1414 and 1425.

4.  Gun holes, punched into the castle's walls during the Civil War when Parliamentarian Leicester was under siege, can still be seen today.

5.  John of Gaunt's cellar, a popular feature of the castle, is most likely the remains of an old stone kitchen.

Entrance archway

Friday 19 January 2018

The Singer Building

When I was a child Singer sewing machines were a big part of my life. My Grandma and Great Aunt, who I've talked about here, both used Singers in their dressmaking workshop. My earliest memory is of them being powered by treadle. I grew up to the sound of those machines, almost like a lullaby, the thrum of the needle as it raced across yards of cloth.

But then they had them converted to electricity some time in the 1960s and I never quite felt the same about the machines after that, although I'm sure it made work much easier for Grandma and Great Aunt.

Cut to last month, and I'm wandering through the City of Leicester gathering items to include in my MA assignment about being a flâneur, as I mentioned in my previous post. I'm standing near the top of High Street looking up at the magnificent Singer Building. It was built in 1902 as a showroom for the Singer Sewing Machine Co and although its official name is The Singer Building, it's often referred to as The Empire Building because it has the most amazing carvings of animals each sitting above a Union Jack, just beneath the first floor windows:
  • a kangaroo for Australia
  • a camel for Egypt
  • a mountain lion for Canada
  • a tiger for India
  • an elephant for Burma 
  • and an ostrich for Africa
I managed to get photographs of the elephant, ostrich and tiger:

I was standing, admiring this artwork, with my back to High Cross Shopping Centre. Some building work is being done to the High Cross shop fronts and so a hoarding has been erected. As I turned round the art style chosen for the hoarding was so dramatically different that I took a photograph of that too:

Sunday 7 January 2018

Wandering Leicester - Sea Breeze headache remedy

My next MA assignment has to be handed in very soon. We have to write either 3500 words of story or 11 pages of poetry with a theme of 'place'. I decided to be a flâneur and wander the streets of Leicester. I then decided to make life more difficult for myself and write the whole thing in verse. I've used a mixture of free and formal verse which is hard work but fun.

My problem is that I've collected so many fascinating lesser-known snippets of information about Leicester that most of them won't make it onto those precious 11 pages. There are some that are so fascinating, I'd like to share them with you over the next few weeks. I don't have time to write them up in verse, I'm afraid but they're still worth a view.

This week I'm posting up two photos of the remains of a chemist shop on Leicester's High Street. The building is on the corner of Cart's Lane and High Street. It's now a men's clothing shop. You wouldn't even know that evidence of a chemist was there if you didn't look up and scrutinise it's façade.

I took the above wide shot and then scanned in closer to see two perfectly preserved mosaics:

The top one shows a man using a pestle and mortar to mix up a remedy and the lower mosaic is an advert for Sea Breeze, a headache remedy made by the owner of the chemist in the 1880s. His name was T. E. Butler.

So if you've ever walked up Leicester's High Street and not noticed these mosaics, you might like to take a moment to glance up next time you go. They're on the left as you walk away from the Clock Tower.

p.s. I know that as a woman I should call myself a flâneuse but I have decided, just as serious women actors no longer refer to themselves as actresses, so too will I use the masculine form.